The Cold War comes to Houston, and everybody shrugs

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Today's Agenda

This may not fly much longer in Houston.

Photographer: Go Nakamura/Getty Images North America

Cold War, Hot Opportunities

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away — the fall of 2019, in other words — people worried about China for reasons other than viruses. How bad would the trade war get? Would it cause a recession? Stuff like that. Bigger, scarier threats have emerged since then. And yet those other China worries haven't gone away. In fact, they've gotten much worse.

Americans woke this morning to the very weird news of the Trump administration shutting down China's consulate in Houston, of all places, where somebody had been making suspicious bonfires the night before. China vowed retaliation. Stocks flexed their old trade-war freakout muscles briefly before resuming their relentless climb. John Authers fears investors aren't quite grasping how much damage could be done to the global economy and corporate profits by a Cold War that shows no sign of cooling.

But such misalignments of reality and market psychology are what dreams, at least arbitrage opportunities, are made of. One place to look is in defense stocks, which Brooke Sutherland observes are strangely super-cheap, despite business holding up just fine for them during the pandemic. Traders may fear a President Joe Biden will cut defense spending. But if anything he's tried to out-hawk President Donald Trump on China. Coronavirus will almost certainly be reasonably contained in a year or two, at worst. The Cold War may not.

Further Cold War implications reading: A U.S. ban of TikTok would leave a huge social-media void here. — Tae Kim

Coronavirus Good News and Bad News

The market's attention this week has mainly been on a string of hopeful headlines about the pandemic. Even as coronavirus runs amok in much of the U.S., progress is being made on a vaccine. The Trump administration today cut a deal to pay Pfizer and its vaccine-development partner $1.95 billion for 100 million doses if they strike immunological gold. Max Nisen writes this is one of the savviest things the government has done so far in this whole debacle.

Unfortunately, the rest of the pandemic news is not nearly as good. As mentioned above, Covid-19 is still out of control here, and it will be many months before vaccines are widely available. Roughly five months into this nightmare, America's capacity to quickly test people for the virus is still criminally lacking, writes Tim O'Brien. And the Trump administration has no plan to make it better.

All of which means many Americans will soon have to return to dreaded lockdowns, warns Noah Smith. This is a colossal failure, although the silver lining is that, this time, we at least know some ways to make lockdowns not be so awful. Doing stuff outside seems pretty safe, for example, as does wearing masks for quick trips to stores and other indoor gathering spots. Yelling in people's faces for hours in bars and family reunions? Not so much. The tricky part will be figuring out how to safely teach kids and economically support those closed bars and family-reunion venues. Hmm. Schools in bars?

Europe, Now With a Slightly Stronger Union

Europe has handled the coronavirus far better than the U.S. has, and it's been no slacker on the economic front either. This week it even managed to strike a deal for a 750 billion euro recovery fund, overcoming the misgivings of its most frugal nations. This isn't the full fiscal union the euro zone needs, but it's an important step in that direction, writes Bloomberg's editorial board.

Andreas Kluth is less enthusiastic, noting all the fault lines in Europe's union keep spreading and widening. This deal merely papers them over, in his view.

But it's all music to the bond market's ears, write Marcus Ashworth and Mark Gilbert. The deal brings to life a new goliath of a safe borrower paying relatively attractive yields (meaning any yields without a minus sign in front of them).

Immigration Keeps Getting More Popular

With the U.S. economy a shambles, Trump has gone back to some of his classic campaign themes to make the argument for his re-election. One of these is immigration, or violent opposition thereto. But Trump's immigration stance is losing ground in the polls, notes Francis Wilkinson. His failure to contain the coronavirus makes it impossible to blame foreigners for it. And if anything, most people have grown more sympathetic to vulnerable immigrants during this crisis.

Ironically, that support may eventually be tested — but maybe not until Trump leaves office. Because the economic and demographic trends that had reversed the flow of Mexican migration over the past 15 years are themselves reversing, warns Shannon O'Neil. The country may not be ready for the flood of immigrants soon to come.

Telltale Charts

The only way for bond investors to make any real money these days is to wade into the dangerous but bargain-rich waters of the junkiest debt, writes Brian Chappatta.

The Fed's targeting racial inequality, as Biden has proposed, would benefit all American workers, writes Narayana Kocherlakota.

Further Reading

Investors should care about press freedom; countries with restricted media are higher-risk countries. — Clara Ferreira Marques

Golf just keeps getting Trump into financial and ethical trouble. — Tim O'Brien and others

Trump is being weirdly unhelpful in negotiating a new stimulus package. — Jonathan Bernstein

Far from hollowing out the suburbs, Biden's economic plans actually favor them more than cities. — Conor Sen

ICYMI

Trump plans to send federal agents to Chicago and Albuquerque.

Philadelphia's D.A. threatened to arrest said federal agents.

Chinese credit is fueling a debt crisis in Africa.

Kickers

Scientists capture the first images of a planetary system around a Sun-like star.

Mathematicians can't get enough of proving the prime-number theorem.

Experimental blood test detects cancer up to four years before symptoms.

How you attach to people may say a lot about you.

Note: Please send golf clubs and complaints to Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net.

 

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